Generally, when people think of vegetarianism, it seems that tofu and salad are thought of as the main staples of the diet. While this is obviously a stereotype, and there are plenty of delicious meals that don’t involve either lettuce or soy, a lot of people still like to know how to prepare tofu dishes for their vegetarian friends. Even after brushing up on the different types of tofu, it can be a little confusing to know what to do with it. The truth is, cooking with tofu isn’t difficult – it can actually be prepared in much the same way that a lot of meats can (grilling, frying, baking) – but it can involve a bit of extra work.
While most people don’t enjoy the bland taste of tofu on its own when uncooked (myself included), it isn’t harmful to do so. Aside from simply eating it plain on its own, you can also try it atop a salad or cubed and used in soups (such as in traditional miso soup). You can also use silken, soft varieties of tofu to make desserts (like vegan puddings) or smoothies.
So, you open your package of (non-silken) tofu to find a slimy white brick. It doesn’t look very appetizing, but that’s only because you haven’t utilized its full potential. The truth of the matter is, plain tofu is more like a base for other flavors (kind of like my recipe for cake donuts). It’s usually packed in water, so it’s a good idea to think of it as a sponge: after pressing out the old water, the tofu will be able to absorb new flavors.
If you’ve never pressed tofu before, it may sound intimidating, but rest assured it’s not as difficult as it sounds. You can buy a tofu press (if you think you’ll be eating a lot of it), or simply go the do-it-yourself route (just be prepared to spend some extra time and a lot of paper towels on it).
- Slice open the tofu package and drain out the water.
- Lay a dish towel on a cookie sheet or tray; place some paper towels on top.
- Add the tofu on top of the paper towels and put more paper towels and another dish towel on top of it.
- Put another cookie sheet or a plate on top of this second layer of towels, and gather some heavy objects to put on the plate/tray. Canned goods, cookbooks, or even some heavy frying pans would all work as good weights.
- Leave the makeshift press alone for at least 30 minutes, up to a couple of hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can cut the waiting time down to about 15 minutes by applying manual pressure, but the results won’t turn out quite as well. Note that with either option, you may need to change out your paper towels a few times as they’ll absorb a lot of water.
- After the tofu has been pressed, uncover it and you’re ready to proceed with your recipe. This is the prime time to marinade the tofu.
Helpful tip: If you want a more meat-like or bread-like texture, after opening a package of firm or extra-firm tofu, drain the water out and freeze the tofu in the white container. After it’s frozen, thaw it and then press it and cook the tofu as you normally would (marinading, baking, etc.). “Freeze and squeeze” is the key to chewy, crispy tofu.
Press and slice your tofu but do not marinate it. Add a bit of oil (pretty much any kind is fine – canola/vegetable oil, peanut, and sesame would probably be best) and coat the bottom of your pan. After frying or searing it, flip the tofu over in the pan to carefully sear all of the sides, and then add the marinade or sauce you’re using. When you try to add sauce or marinade to un-seared stovetop tofu, the marinade tends to get lost and the result is mushy tofu that doesn’t get cooked properly.
Tofu can easily replace meat on the grill, in a grill pan, or just under the oven broiler. After marinating, spray a grill or pan with nonstick spray and cook it until the tofu has some nice grill marks or crispy edges (about 7 minutes per side, or less if the grill is very hot). Unlike with meat, tofu can be eaten without needing to be cooked at all, so you don’t have to worry about it reaching a certain internal temperature. For an idea on how to cook tofu at a barbecue, you might consider using a steak marinade, grilling the tofu with some onions and barbecue sauce, and then serving it on a grilled bun.
If you’re broiling the tofu, try slicing or cubing it into uniform pieces. Spray a baking pan with nonstick spray or line it with parchment paper. Add the tofu and broil it for 8-10 minutes on the first side, then flip the tofu over and continue to broil it for about 3 to 6 minutes on the second side. Do not leave the kitchen while broiling the tofu, because food can go from raw to scorched under a broiler in as little as sixty seconds. You don’t want to ruin your hard work by accidentally charring it!
Broiling, grilling, and baking are all healthy alternatives to frying. If you want to bake your tofu after marinating it, preheat the oven to about 425-450 and bake it for about 25 minutes total, flipping once halfway through. Hotter temperatures will give a nice outer “sear” and crispness better than cooking at lower temperatures for a longer duration (say, 325 degrees for 45 minutes).
Tip: Most people use nonstick spray, but using parchment paper to line pans makes for easier clean-up.
Tip: When marinating tofu, use more than you think you’ll need. A lot of the marinade flavor disappears during the cooking process, so feel free to start stronger than you think you’ll want the finished tofu.
I'm never tired of eating tofu, there's so many ways to cook them.
Shawna W says
I've been looking for an article that explains the different cooking methods for tofu. You've helped me learn enough to give it a try!
Sherry Compton says
Thanks. There are so many options now for Tofu recipes and types. There's hard and silken tofu. I didn't even think about broiling it. I'm interested in trying tofu in different things but still hesitant about it. It sounds like you have some good ways of using it for flavor and texture.
Maria Iemma says
I have never had tofu but with my diabetes and high blood pressure the doctor wants me to start eating less meat…I am going to give it a try!
i never had tofu i heard its nasty but im going to try it because everybody has diffrent opinions
Somre great tips here, especially the freezing. I'll have to try it.
Karen Lynn Burget says
Thanks for sharing, I have never cooked tofu and this seems easy to do.
I've never heard of pressing the tofu before. We used to use it in our Asian restaurant all the time, but never pressed. I imagine if you're going to marinate it this is a good idea so the tofu can soak up the flavors of the marinade.
Sandy McFadden says
I am still not turned on to tofu maybe if someone would make something with it and I didn't know what I was eating I might like it but the site of it makes me gag.
Denise Smith says
i have never tried cooking tofu i will try now
I have only tasted tofu once and didn't like it. I should probably try to spice it up and try again.
Susan Bewley says
Feel free to try my coconut tofu recipe. Its one of those quick recipes I make and it is delicious! The only change i have recently added to the recipe is adding coconut flakes to the batter 🙂
Thank you, a thousand thank yous for writing this and posting it! I'm a recent devotee to the tofu community, and I love it, plain or otherwise. It's a pain in the keister sometimes to figure out how to cook it, so thank you for the ways to prepare and the ideas on how to do so. Appreciate any further knowledge that I can apply to this tasty treat!
Susan Bewley says
I LOVE tofu. Did you see my coconut tofu recipe?
Amanda Tempel says
I love tofu. So many different ways to use it, and it tastes delicious!
Thank you so much for this! I have been wanting to try tofu but didn't have a clue how to prepare it! This has really helped me out a lot.
Jo-Ann Brightman says
I have only stir fried with tofu. I am going to try either or bothe broilng and baking it. I'd like to get a "sear" on the outside.
Krystal V. says
I love tofu 🙂
Cindy Gaarder says
I have never cooked tofu and I appreicate all the help 🙂
I dig tofu. Another way to cook with it is using silken tofu in smoothies or desserts.
Marjorie Hajim says
I really love tofu! Thanks for featuring this. Now I know other ways to cook tofu. I'll experiment on my dinner later. xoxox
Samantha Johnson says
Never had tofu, I may have to try it to at least say I did! I'll use the frying method.
Holly Wert says
i like to fry it in small cubes with peppers and onion and smoked paprika, tastes like homefries
Adriana Gonzalez says
im guna try, ive been wanting to learn how to do this thanks
Lana Bradstream says
I like miso soup, but have never tried making tofu myself.
Thomas Chappell says
I am so glad I came across this. Not to long ago we tried to make a tofu stirfry and It was NASTY. It wasn't the tofu's fault, we just had no idea how to cook it.
Ina Vander-Horst Valette says
Wow this is very helpful! Definitely bookmarking this! I've always been interested in cooking with tofu but never knew how to.
Thank you for this. I have never pressed tofu and I have never tried to fry it. I think I would like to try doing both!!
judy gardner says
i have never tried to cook with tofu – thanks for sharing!
I haven't given tofu a chance. I'm not sure if it's the texture or what. Maybe these recipes will change my mind. Thanks.
Allyson Bossie says
I have never purchased tofu, quite honestly because I had no idea how to cook it. Now I have several ideas, and can't wait to try it!
Gale McCarron says
This certainly seems easy enough. Would love to know some good marinades to use with the tofu. Also some variations of recipes. I'm very tempted to try this now. 🙂
I’ve not tried broiling or baking tofu. We like tofu, I also like to batter dip them and saute them like chicken nuggets, sometimes roll in coconut after the batter with a soy pineapple roasted sesame sauce. So good.